I got inspired to write, Innocents back in October 2017 when I heard that Shaun Allan and Greg Carrico were running a horror contest centered on Jack the Ripper. The concept for this story came to me as soon as I saw their call for entries. I sat down at the computer and typed like crazy. I wrote this whole story in like an hour. Words just poured out of me (which is pretty rare). A few rounds of edits later, I submitted the story.
You can imagine my glee when they pronounced me the winner of the Jack the Ripper Contest! Shaun and Greg are mega talented! I am a huge fan of their work! The fact that they liked my story would have been enough–but winning!? Wow. Huge honor. I was over the moon.
Without further ado, read on…
A Jack the Ripper Short Story
By Narcisse Navarre
On a different night, in a different time, perhaps the two would have held hands, but now they just grunted and moaned like a pair of wild animals. Fingers dug into flesh, lips parted and whispers were exchanged in the dark. Moonlight bathed the alleyway in a wet sheen. Gutters sputtered rain. The stench of fish guts, curdled milk and sweat clung to my nostrils. A hungry babe cried somewhere in the tenements of George Yard. My boots sank in the muck.
The fornicators took to the act with mechanical fashion, each rutting toward a different outcome. The soldier’s belly was full of cheap ale; his head hot with the prospect of emptying himself into warm flesh. The woman, at least twice his age, hiked up her skirts and bit his ear in the hopes that the young buck would soon tire. She was in pain, and her eyes looked neither up nor down. She stared fixedly at the opposite wall of the alley while her grasping hands feigned pleasure. Only liquor could dull her penance, and the woman had drunk her fill. Her wit, if not her looks, had ensnared several young men at the Angel and Crown. She had cavorted with many and earned enough for tomorrow night’s romp through the pubs of Whitechapel. The breathless man currently in her clutches was her fourth customer.
The harlot’s name was Martha.
I knew her well.
Her blood had flowed over my fingers more times than I cared to remember. The woman’s miraculous womb took to a man’s seed like fire to kindling. I had pulled out of her entrails bloody clumps that would have been children were it not for her foul medicines and toxic concoctions. Miscarriage after miscarriage had passed through my hands and dribbled into the gutter. Martha’s last child had lived for a few breaths. Born without arms and a collapsed chest; the deformed creature had looked up at me with newborn eyes—already wise in their understanding of mortality.
I closed my eyes and listened. Muffled groans filled the alleyway. The scent of blood, urine, and refuse mingled until one was indistinguishable from the other. The child in my arms wheezed and drooled. Gray beady eyes bore into me, pleading for deliverance.
I fingered the scalpel in the dark. Wet my lips.
How many innocents had I reaped from Martha’s belly? How many more souls would she condemn to the fires of hell? Women like her were a plague; a scourge on all that was good and decent in the world.
The soldier hooked his elbow under Martha’s knee and spread her open. He thrust into her as if seeking to crawl into her womb. The woman’s backside scraped roughly against the wall. A breast slipped out of her bodice. The downpour became a drizzle.
In the wake of the rain, the sticky, humid heat returned. August was London’s most despicable month. Summer brought swarms of flies and rats; misery and disease. Meat rotted quickly in the abattoirs and the morgues. Few places were safe from the stench of sewage and death.
I gritted my teeth as a stray dog ambled in my direction. The mangy beast trotted past the pair and barked at the shadows where I stood. My heart battered against my ribcage. The dog tensed; bared its fangs.
Sensing that she wasn’t alone, Martha rearranged her bodice and covered up her nakedness. “Hurry it up, already, I don’ have all night. You’re shredding me back.”
“Almost there, Mattie, just a little m-more.” With a final thrust and a stifled moan, the young man arched forward and spilled his seed. His hips stilled. The dog barked.
“Someone there?” called Martha.
The soldier fumbled with his pants. “Dog’s seen a rat or something, don’t pay it any mind.”
“How about a sixpence, darling?” Martha smoothed her skirt and tucked loose strands of hair into her bun.
Sweat beaded between my shoulder blades and trickled down my spine. My cape felt oppressive in the summer heat, and the crucifix around my neck felt like a yoke. I stared into the dog’s eyes, stood my ground.
As if by divine providence, the beast tucked its tail between its legs and scampered off.
In the alley, money exchanged hands.
I emerged from the shadow of a doorway just as the soldier gave the woman a final squeeze. My presence startled them both, and they concluded their business with a nod. The soldier looked down at the cobbles in shame as he hurried by while Martha pretended not to recognize me. She gathered her skirts and hurried toward the flat she called home with its flea-infested bed and cabinets full of poison.
I entered the building, not far behind her and called out. “Martha Tabram is that you?”
The sinner paused at the top of the stairs. She grasped the rail, took a deep breath and turned to face me. “Sister Clara, it’s good to see you again. It’s a bit late to make a house call, is it not?”
The hall was dark and dank. It reeked of vomit, ordure, and hardship. I climbed to the landing and drew close to the harlot; looked in her eyes. I was weary of hypocrisy and sin; repulsed by the lust that possessed the wretches that stalked the streets at night. “Death does not keep modest hours. The Lord’s work must be done.”
“The lad you stitched up the other day, Victoria’s get, is doing much better. I saw him playing outside yesterday. And Grace too, she’s pulling through after”—Martha wrung her hands together—”after you helped her with the baby.”
My knuckles tightened around the blade. “You mean the child that she condemned to everlasting damnation?”
“Sister Clara, I—” Martha didn’t finish the sentence. Whether from shame or bewilderment she turned to leave. I did not let her.
I grabbed the portly woman by the hair and jammed the scalpel in her neck. A spray of blood gushed from the wound and splattered on my cloak. Martha brought up her hands to defend herself and lost her footing. She fell on the landing and screamed, but only a pathetic gurgle emerged from her ruined throat. The scalpel felt like an extension of my being; an instrument of the Lord’s will. It glinted in the moonlight—Saint Michael’s divine sword smiting the writhing devil.
Martha, the harlot, did not die quickly. She flailed, clawed and kicked. Her bowels loosened and filled the hall with the acrid stink of piss and shit. Her blood, rendered black in the gloom, soaked through the fabric of her green dress until it too was black with the stain of her sin.
My heart pumped at my temples. My limbs trembled. A hiss escaped my lips as rage superseded conviction. I clamped my hand over the dying woman’s mouth and began stabbing her in the name of her aborted children—all thirty-nine of them.
With each punishing plunge of my blade—the Lord’s blade—I prayed. “Holy Michael Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.”
“May God rebuke him, we humbly pray.”
“O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, may you cast Satan and all the evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls into hell.”
Martha’s only surviving child peered up at me from her mother’s fetid innards. The infant’s steely eyes gave me strength. And so, I kept stabbing.
Thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight.
“Sancte Michael, defende nos in proelio ut non pereamus in tremendo iudicio.” I brought down the scalpel with such force that my fist penetrated the warm, mince-meat of her guts. Thirty-nine.
Calmly, I stood up. The deed was done.
I was soaked in the devil’s blood and my own sweat. Martha’s infernal lust would never again condemn another innocent soul to hell.
I slipped the scalpel into the pocket of my cloak and took off the dark garment. Glory be to God; the woman’s blood had not tainted my guimpe. I yanked off my coif, tucked it into the folds of my cloak, and headed downstairs.
The street outside the tenement was deserted, and the wailing child had long quieted. As if sensing fresh meat, the dog reappeared from the shadows. It stared at me with unflinching eyes that reflected the moon.
The deformed child closed her eyes, and her tiny body shook. I held her in my arms; in my mind’s eye, as I washed the blood off my hands in the flow of a rain spout.
The peace I thought I would find by carrying out God’s will did not grace me. Rage returned with each step I took away from Martha Tabram’s cooling corpse. The hem of my habit, wet and putrid from Whitechapel’s filth, dragged along the ground.
With a whimper, the dog prowled back into the darkness. A drunkard spat at my feet as I turned onto Whitechapel Road.
The Sisters of Mercy were Catholics and weren’t welcome anywhere except in the most desperate of places. Poverty, chastity, and obedience was the vow we all took. We slaved away in cellars and in dingy flats helping harlots and starving children. We risked disease and death and for what? Near death experiences didn’t smite the fear of God into the Jezebels. Days after aborting a child they went back to their filthy cots, spread their legs and drank away their earnings.
I held the bundled cloak tightly under my arm. It was either very late or very early, and traffic on Whitechapel Road was light. Intoxicated men with leering faces; soldiers, sailors and disheveled prostitutes stumbled past me. A carriage nearly trampled me. I do not know when or how I arrived at the convent on the corner of York and William, nor when I made my way to my bed. But it was there, in the severity of my cell, in the quiet dark, that I realized I was not through carrying out God’s work.
I clutched my crucifix and held it to my breast. I closed my eyes.
“Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum.”
Clumps of bloody flesh; membranes that were meant to be human splattered on the floor. Tiny hands whose bones had not yet formed shone red, translucent in the candlelight. A frail little leg fell through my fingers. I stared at my blood-soaked hands and the woman’s open thighs. The bed sheets were crimson, and her screams filled the brick vault that housed our infirmary.
I was being shaken, but I was elsewhere. I was walking along Whitechapel Road, and the sun was rising. The orange rays of a new day brushed the tops of the tenements burning away the fog. Martha Tabram was spitting out blood, crying out. She too had screamed the word, murder.
God’s work was not murder. I made the sign of the cross. “In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.”
The woman on the bed continued screaming. She was not Martha. Her name was Polly or was it, Mary?
My hand trembled as I stared at the gaping wound between the woman’s leather-bound legs. I stood up, dropped my scalpel. Beady eyes blinked from the lusty, butchered orifice where I had stabbed. There was blood everywhere.
“Sister Clara! Sister!!! By all that is Holy, get away from her!”
Poverty. Chastity. Obedience.
It dawned on me that I was not alone. Mother Superior was ordering my fellow sisters to restrain me. In front of me, a woman was lying prone, bleeding to death. She had miscarried very late in her pregnancy. There was nothing left of the would-be child except a glob of semi-formed limbs at my feet. The baby’s skull was crushed.
“God’s will be done!” I yelled.
Mother Superior slapped me. Sister Agatha defended me, “She hasn’t slept in days!”
Hands clamped around my shoulders and dragged me away. I stared at the broken child on the flagstones; an innocent who would find no justice in this wicked world.
I remembered butchering Martha’s quivering corpse. I had stabbed her thirty-nine times, and she had been alive for at least half. Mary Anne Nichols deserved worse—much, much worse.
I would flay her alive.
“Sister Clara, do you know what year it is?” Sister Mary Cecilia Carroll sat straight as a rail in her chair. She held a leather-bound book on her lap.
“1892,” I replied.
“Yes, seems that you are having a good day today,” she said. “Do you remember where you are?”
Sunlight streamed through arched windows. Outside, a breeze rustled the bright green leaves of a maple tree. Rows of metal-framed beds lined one side of the mint-colored room which I shared with only three other patients. The place was nearly empty. “America.”
Sister Mary pursed her lips. “You’re in Saint Joseph’s Infirmary, in Atlanta, Georgia. That’s in the South. Do you remember why you’re here?”
I smiled sheepishly. “Yes, Sister.”
“Why don’t you tell me a bit more about that,” encouraged Sister Mary.
Bile rose in my throat. I bucked against the leather straps that held my arms to the metal frame. Spittle flew from my lips as I spoke. “I killed eleven fornicators in the name of God. I stabbed and ripped their flesh from their bodies. Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in proelio; contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium.”
“I understand, my child.” Sister Mary patted my clenched fist, then opened the book on her lap. She began to read as she often did, believing me to be mad. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law, he meditates day and night.”
I sobbed. I shook the bed. “There are more sinners!” I yelled.
Sister Mary turned the page and continued, “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.”
I beseeched the divine archangel. I prayed to him day and night so that he might deliver me back to London; to that infested nest crawling with killers of unborn children. I begged to do his work; God’s work which had gone unfinished. “Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra. Release me!!!”
My screams brought Sister Mary’s reading to an abrupt end. She closed the Bible and stood. “Tomorrow is another day, dear child. The Lord Jesus Christ is patient with his flock, and in time he will help you regain your senses. You are not Jack the Ripper. You are Sister Clara, a pious soul who has worked tirelessly for the betterment of unfortunate women.”
I thrashed against my restraints, gnashed my teeth. “That cruel, ancient serpent, who is called the devil or Satan who seduces the whole world, was cast into the abyss with his angels. Behold, this primeval enemy and slayer of men has taken courage. RELEASE ME! Oh, mighty God, allow your humble servant to do your work.”
Sister Mary smoothed my hair back and wiped the sweat from my forehead. She looked down at me with kindness in her eyes. “There is a new procedure which has proven effective in the treatment of mania, my dear. I have been in correspondence with Doctor Gottlieb, in Basel, whose latest discovery shows promise. He has agreed to assess your case.” Sister Mary crossed herself. “Soon, God willing, you will be yourself again, Sister Clara.”
Author’s Note & Copyright
Innocents, is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the authors’ imaginations or are used imaginatively.
Copyright © October, 2017 by Narcisse Navarre
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, send me a private message.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed the story let me know. Cheers, Narcisse